Annette Harcus’ advice for young designers
In a recent sit-down with Annette Harcus, we took the chance to ask for her advice for young designers, this is what she told us…
“Don’t do what I did”
…which is to set up a design practice too early in your career (in her case straight out of college). Try not to progress through your design career without working for somebody else. It’s important to gain variety of experiences and learn from a lot of different people. It’s also important to gain experience creating and working on a diverse range of projects which is easier to achieve working in other design practices.
It’ll be very easy for you to accumulate a portfolio of work that focuses on a particular area of design and before you know it, that’s the only kind of job you’re getting. It’s not always a bad thing, if that’s what you want, but if you want to do something different then…you can get stuck (kind of).
Which brings us to Annette’s next point, your portfolio doesn’t have to only include the projects you’ve worked on during university or college. As an employer we see the same projects year after year from the same colleges. For students coming out of college their portfolio ends up being the driver of their careers, in that they let the student projects they’ve worked on dictate where they end up in the design industry. But this doesn’t have to be the case, many projects worked on in college can be expanded upon. They have the potential to become brand identities or packaging design or whatever else. Think outside the box a little and push the boundaries of the original briefs you were given. Be curious, be inquisitive and ask questions. Never stop learning and always be open to absorbing knowledge about the world around you.
Your portfolio should be a reflection of your ongoing personal/side projects or things you see that you think needs to be better. Set your own briefs/projects or think outside the box. For example, “Cadburys. Why’ve they got purple? Why is their logo like that?” “You see something you think could be better, could work differently. Have a go at it.” Stand out from the crowd by pushing yourself beyond what was required at college.
Projects like this show initiative and to an employer, is gold. But it’s also something that will benefit you in the long run because half of the problem is not understanding the problem. As designers we are problems solvers and if you’re looking at the world around you all the time questioning things, it’s like training your brain. There are two questions you can begin to ask yourself, ‘why does this work?’ Or ‘why does that not work? And, ‘how do I make it better?’
Create a portfolio that has personality and differentiation. Include the process and rough sketches behind your idea/concept. This really shows your potential employer how your mind works.
In order to get a job it’s still important to be really, really good at something and your portfolio needs to reflects this, but as a young designer you don’t want to be locked into a specialty that early on. Finding a studio or agency that lets you work on a broad range of projects will help you find out what you’d like to do in the long run. However, if you aren’t getting that broad range of work, initiate your own projects—so that you’re showing other types of work, as you did with your student work.
In college, and at any stage of life really, it’s important to build and maintain good relationships with people—you never know if your relationship with one person now might affect your future job prospects. If possible, collaborate on projects with your friends and utilise the network you’ve built since having been to school, university or college. These are the people that you can immediately draw upon—they may be potential clients and future referrals (the wonders of worth of mouth).
Finally, by continuing to create good design that solves the intended problem, you’re setting yourself up for success because people will see the good work that you do and be drawn to you and your skillset. Let your work speak for itself and always aim to present it as best as you can.
You can read the rest of our interview and the AGDA Hall of Fame profile by Graham Rendoth in Ligature Journal Issue Seven (Mind: Place)